It’s back-to-school time for many Free the Slaves supporters. That means it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect on the importance of educating a child. I thought I should share with you the observations of our development director, Lori Fitzmaurice, from her recent trip to our front line anti-slavery program in mountain villages near Jacmel, Haiti. Free the Slaves provides access to schooling for Haitian children who are survivors of domestic servitude, as well as those at risk of enslavement.

I so want you to know how this work is really changing the landscape of slavery. If I were a donor (and I am), I would want to know that my money is making a difference.

Little prepares you for the sheer pervasiveness of poverty in Haiti. Complete lack of infrastructure, roads and buildings in shambles, garbage-lined streets and poor sanitation are repeated corner by corner. But, Haiti is a country in constant motion, unwavering, refusing to be defined by what it lacks. True resilience.

I spent time with Smith Maxime, our country director, who grew up in Haiti and lives in Port-au-Prince. Smith is a wonderful person, dedicating himself to ridding Haiti of restavek, the system of child domestic servitude that is rampant. Smith took me to two remote villages, Marre and Sou Platon. I spoke with children who survived restavek, rescued by their parents, and the community members who formed komantims, or child protection committees, a model that Free the Slaves has developed in all of our countries to identify those enslaved, liberate them, and prevent slavery from taking hold in villages. I know our model works. But to hear it from the people who live it every day, moved me to tears on more than one occasion.

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Natasha speaks with her mom, who was inspired by Free the Slaves to rescue her daughter from restavek slavery | Photo: FTS/FitzPatrick

I was lucky to sit with some of the children of Marre and hear what they care about. There, I met Natasha – she is the young girl featured in our Haiti videoThe girl you see in the video was tearful describing her ordeal in slavery, but she is now smiling and happy as a 15 year old in school. Her worry is that komantim members, who pool resources to ensure children have a local school, will not be able in the future to help her make-up the fees. Nothing a child should have to worry about.

The komantim is fundamental to the Free the Slaves model. In the case of Marre, the members formed three groups: the child protection committee; the model farmers, those who are planting their land under the guidance of an agronomist we hired last year; and a savings and loan group. This group pools money for small loans to villagers who need farming tools, small household repairs, school fees and emergencies that impact the entire village. Although their resources are few, they are working towards a self-sustaining program that helps lift all the residents.

I’m so heartened by what I saw. I wish everyone could see this firsthand. I promised those girls I would raise money to help this program, and I’m more determined than ever to make good on that promise.

Help us make good on Lori’s promise. Help us ensure that no child has to worry about affording basic education.

Break slavery. Build freedom.

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Jaswant (far right) and his family | MSEMVS photo

It started with a simple loan to pay for a wedding. It turned into brutal enslavement for an entire family. It wound up as a triumphant victory over bondage, thanks to Free the Slaves and our front line partner group in India, MSEMVS.

Five years ago, Jaswant borrowed $167 from a farm and factory owner to finance the wedding of his eldest daughter. The interest rate was outrageous — and illegal — and it quickly became impossible for Jaswant to repay the debt. It’s clear the lender was after something more when he lent the money: slave laborers for his brick factory. Even though debt-bondage slavery is illegal in India, Jaswant and his entire family were forced onto trucks and taken to a sweltering brick kiln 35 miles away.

Family members were forced to work 14-hour days, including the children, and they were locked-up at night to prevent escape. Jaswant was beaten when he asked to be paid.

Fortunately, MSEMVS had been working to organize and liberate enslaved villagers in the nearby community of Garai. After a particularly severe beating this May, Jaswant managed to escape and make it to Garai to seek help. Thanks to their training, villagers knew just what to do. They got Jaswant to a local hospital and notified MSEMVS.

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Reporter interviews Jaswant’s family during raid | MSEMVS photo

Soon a police rescue team headed to the kiln. A news crew captured the dramatic scene for Indian television.

“I lost my hope to be freed because there was not a single person who could listen to us or see our terrible situation,” Jaswant said. “It is MSEMVS and its commitment by which I am free now and enjoying life with my family.”

A legal case has been opened against the slaveholder. Jaswant’s family has been relocated to a safe location, and his children are now in school.

You can learn more about how our India partner groups organize communities on our India webpage, and see video of an actual rescue on our YouTube channel.

haiti report coverIt’s heartbreaking to learn that rural Haitian families often feel they have no choice but to send some of their children away because they can’t afford to care for them.

The restavek system is a longstanding tradition in Haiti, where rural kids are sent to live with other families in cities and work for them as domestic servants. The expectation is that the “host” family will care for the child by providing schooling, food and shelter.

All too often, though, restavek children are abused and enslaved instead.

Free the Slaves has successfully completed a pilot project with the Haitian group Fondasyon Limye Lavi to build community consensus against the restavek system and prevent the flow of children into domestic servitude.

A detailed report (in English and French) and documentary video (in English and Creole) are available on the FTS Haiti webpage.

The project results were very encouraging:

  • An estimated 27 percent of the children in villages reached by the project who were initially identified as being in restavek are now back home.
  • A child rights educational program improved the treatment of children in project communities by 29 percentage points.
  • Child protection committees were formed in each community to prevent the sending of children into restavek slavery, to support the reintegration of returned children and to promote overall child welfare.
  • An accelerated education program provided schooling for at-risk kids, helping to keep them at home.

FTS is now spreading the word about the Model Communities approach to an array of anti-poverty and child rights organizations working in Haiti. The goal is simple: transform all of Haiti into a model community in order to protect vulnerable children from slavery.

community model booklet coverHave you ever wondered just how Free the Slaves helps thousands of people escape bondage each year? Well, now you can read the step-by-step procedures we follow for leading communities from slavery to freedom.

Our “Community Based Model for Fighting Slavery” is available online.

The model details the four-phase approach Free the Slaves uses to free slaves and change the conditions that allow slavery to persist. We focus on identifying and supporting at-risk communities so they acquire intellectual, organizational, legal, political and physical assets that reduce their vulnerability to slavery and liberate those in slavery.

Our basic approach is to create these assets to offset the vulnerabilities that make people easy prey for traffickers. We educate about rights and risks, organize community groups against slavery, strengthen household security, liberate those in slavery and increase the costs and risks to perpetrators. The model also explains how we monitor our activities and evaluate their effect.

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The anti-slavery movement is at an important crossroads, where detailed action plans and rigorous assessments of our effectiveness are vital to showing the world that slavery can be overcome. Free the Slaves is helping lead the way.

2013FTSAnnualReportCover“Forging freedom demands the courage to renew and transform.”

That’s how the Free the Slaves 2013 Annual Report begins. The report demonstrates that Free the Slaves is thriving as an organization, while embracing the need for change.

The report showcases remarkable results in 2013: more than 3,000 slaves freed, more than 18,000 villagers educated on ways to prevent slavery, more then 100 traffickers facing legal action.

But the report also examines how Free the Slaves is maturing as an organization. Our front line country programs, which serve communities menaced by slavery, are more clearly positioned now as the heart and soul of Free the Slaves. Our newly clarified model for change is bringing scientific scrutiny to the way we operate.

“It is wonderful to see that the movement toward ending modern-day slavery is gaining momentum,” writes FTS Board Chair Jane Covey, “and to know that Free the Slaves continues to occupy an important place in this cause.”

“We are filled with optimism,” writes FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg, “knowing that we are moving closer to a world without slavery.”

If you’ve ever wondered whether slavery really can be conquered, read our latest annual report. You will have no doubt.